A most timely textbook on online research methods in sport studies

Daniel Bjärsholm
Department of Sport Science, Linnaeus University

Jamie Cleland, Kevin Dixon & Daniel Kilvington
Online Research Methods in Sport Studies
146 pages, paperback.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2020
ISBN 978-0-367-40816-9

I have never come across a textbook that was published so right in time as this one. The textbook Online research methods in sport studies, written by Jamie Cleland, Kevin Dixon and Daniel Kilvington, was originally published by Routledge in December 2019, just a couple of months before COVID-19 was classified as a pandemic. The coronavirus has transformed every aspects of society, research included. For researchers, the pandemic has involved some major changes. One of these concerns how researchers collect their data. For example, many clinical studies other than COVID-19 related ones have been paused, lockdowns and travel restrictions have made field research more difficult or even prevented it, and face-to-face conversations have had to be conducted digitally.

Even though the authors were unaware of the upcoming pandemic, they present their readers (students as well as researchers) with an interesting, relevant and timely textbook on how to conduct sport-related research online. Because even without the pandemic, the internet and various digital technologies have transformed both sport and the ways we can research sport. In the book, which consists of 7 chapters, the reader is guided through the research process in a step-by-step manner, including creating and generating research ideas and objectives (Ch. 2), implementing chosen research design (Ch. 2), maintaining good ethical standards (Ch. 3), and collecting (Ch. 4–6), analyzing and presenting data (Ch. 7). A particular focus is on how to conduct surveys (Ch. 4), interviews (Ch. 5) and ethnography/netnography (Ch. 6) online. Every chapter contains pedagogical individual and group activities that aim to encourage readers to engage with online research. In addition, most chapters include various published sport studies that are used to exemplify how the content in the chapters can be implemented in practice.

The textbook has several strengths that need to be highlighted. First, I appreciate the emphasis the authors put, throughout the book, on the importance of conducting a literature review when in the beginning of a research process (e.g., pp. 21–23). Literature reviews help the researcher in many ways; for example, it provides familiarity with your subject, it develops your awareness of relevant theories and concepts, and it helps you to both understand the extent of past research and focus your questions so that they cumulatively can be achieved in research.

Second, the third chapter “Online research ethics” constitutes an important contribution to research methods, especially since it discusses ethical considerations that need to be addressed before conducting online research. In this context, the discussion on informed consent and how to protect participants from harm seems particularly relevant. In any research study involving human subjects, it is important to inform them of the research, protect them from harm and gain their informed consent to participate and share their views, either during a face-to-face interview or by completing a survey. However, on the internet, and especially on social media (e.g., Twitter and Instagram), researchers can access and analyze users’ data without informed consent having been given. In addition, researchers should remember that due to modern search engines, such as Google, it is impossible to protect anonymity and avoid possible harm if online data is presented verbatim. Furthermore, one should bear in mind that some social media platforms are more public (e.g., Twitter) than others (e.g., private group on Facebook). This makes a difference: the more public the less ethical issues and considerations need to be made by researchers. But regardless of public or private platform, the authors provide the readers with some good advice on how to engage in good ethical practice online. Some of these are: a) where possible, always gain some form of informed consent from participants; b) contact the group administrator or moderator of discussion boards or forums to ask for access to potential participants; and c) consider if you need to present your findings verbatim or if it is “enough” to paraphrase quotes (e.g., pp. 51, 109–110).

Consequently, if you have not read about netnography before and would like a concise description of this concept, I can highly recommend this textbook as an introduction to the method.

Third, the concept of netnography (i.e., carrying out ethnography online on the internet) is presented in an understandable and insightful manner. The authors briefly describe ways of gathering data (extant, elicited and enacted), entering online communities (lurking, partial disclosure, full disclosure and participatory methods), and analyzing the collected data (Ch. 6). They also highlight a number of advantages and disadvantages of netnography in relation to more traditional methods (pp. 106–107). Several of the advantages mentioned are, due to the coronavirus, highly relevant to consider, especially if one is conducting research involving people during lockdowns and other restrictions. Consequently, if you have not read about netnography before and would like a concise description of this concept, I can highly recommend this textbook as an introduction to the method.

The fourth and final strength of the textbook is that even though the chapters on online surveys (Ch. 4) and online interviews (Ch. 5) are similar to other textbooks on research methods, the authors clearly highlight reasons for, and challenges of, conducting sport studies online. A reason for using an online survey is that the data entry is made immediately to the platform and can oftentimes easily be transferred to a software analysis programme such as SPSS. Another important reason is that so-called skip pattern questions can be used (i.e., participants are being directed to a new set of questions based on a previous answer), which means that participants do not need to answer unnecessary questions and thus improving the validity of the survey “by eliminating the possibility of illogical answers from participants (such as men commenting on questions meant for women and vice versa)” (p. 62). A challenge with online surveys is that researchers often lack control of who is responding. Also, online interviews hold many advantages, yet face some important challenges (p. 84). Online interviews are, among other things, cost-effective, ecological and safe, which are important features in today’s society with its environmental problems/crisis and ongoing pandemic. A great challenge is of a technical nature. Both parties need to have a good and stable internet connection so that any disruptions and interruptions due to poor connection can be avoided.

However, the textbook also has some shortcomings that need to be mentioned. First and foremost, it seems like the authors of the book have tried to include as much as possible on a limited number of pages. In total, the book consists of 144 pages, including both a glossary section and an index. Thus, it becomes difficult to obtain any in-depth knowledge. One section in the book where this becomes particularly clear is when the authors present various ways of analyzing collected data. For instance, only 4,5 pages (pp. 115–119) are devoted to different ways of analyzing quantitative data (e.g., Komogarov-Smirnov, Mann-Whitney U Test, Chi Square Test, Multiple Regression and Factor Analysis), which can be compared to the 1000-page book Discovering statistics by using IBM SPSS by Andy Field (2017), a textbook entirely about statistics and quantitative analyses. The same applies to the section where different qualitative analyses, such as content analysis, discourse analysis, interpretive phenomenological analysis and narrative analysis, are presented (pp. 125–135). Two other minor shortcomings are that the authors: a) use the concept of netnography frequently before introducing the concept; and b) tend to focus a little too much on research methods in general rather than on online research methods.

Despite these shortcomings, I would like to commend the authors for the work put in and for what I asses is a timely and relevant textbook, especially considering the prevailing societal conditions. In sum, I recommend the book as it provides valuable insights for both students and researchers interested in conducting online research.

Copyright @ Daniel Bjärsholm 2021


Field, A. (2017). Discovering statistics by using IBM SPSS (5th edition). London: Sage Publications.
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